Skip to main content

Full text of "The Poe cottage at Fordham"

See other formats





'y'*y3%;fe-iN:i.i<'Z;i/ir/y/JV'-i.'-a».^'>ia»f»iJf;v .^,»;<.-t..-i.-.,A"'.v^^'' : ^ '.vr --.:■..;.' y. ■ . ■, 




/ / 





H^^^^>i 




APR 7 jq^;. 


i^HB 




.ni^Sj^^HBjftg. ' -:^^9| 


^H 






^^^SB^ JL^B 


1 


^M^^(k*«c 


HwtttaL^. 




1 


^^^^^^^2 


^■j^^^^g 


^^^^■S^^^^^^^I^^^^^^^^^^^^Sn^^^^^^H 


■S!"--P^ 


■^■■Q^BI^^^Hi 


^^ ^^P^r^^i^Bs 




uMMjOHy^^^ 


1 






^^^^^^^^^B^^' ' ' ' --''^SvBBa* 



THE POE COTTAGE 

AT 

FORDHAM 



BY 



REGINALD PELHAM BOLTON <C^^ 

MEMBER OF THE NEW YORK HISTORICAL SOCIETY ^^A 




1922 



TRANSACTIONS OF THE 

BRONX SOCIETY OF ARTS 

SCIENCES AND HISTORY 

Volume I Part V 




POE COTTAGE COMMITTEE 

Mrs. Charles D. Dickey, Chairman 
Miss Elizabeth Cowan • Reginald Pelham Bolton 

Mrs. a. C. Fisk William White Niles 

Mrs. William W. Niles Charles W. Stoughton 

Miss Mary Wray, Secreta?-y 

Curator, Mrs. Emma Kopp 



Copyright 1921. Poe Cottage Committee 








^^^^^■^^£^^^^^^1 


^^Y^^^l^l 



EDGAR ALLAN POE 



Edmond T. Quinn, Sculpt. 




PECULIAR interest attaches itself to the little cottage 
in Fordham occupied by Edgar Allan Poe, for in all 
the great city it stands almost if not quite alone as a 
dwelling having direct and unquestioned association 
with the early literary history of the city. "Certainly no other house 
in this city can boast of having sheltered a poet engaged in the 
composition of poems of such haunting and melancholy beauty and 
of such enduring worth." 

The small building which the poet made his home in 1846, with 
his wife and her mother, stood on the east side of Kingsbridge Road 
just at the brow of its steep descent to Fordham, at the present 192d 
Street. The locality known as Fordham, the old manor which was 
created in 1676, had a rather scattered population in farm houses 



488032 



2 THE POE COTTAGE AT FORDHAM 

and cottages strung along the course of its most important as well 
as most ancient highway, the Kingsbridge road. On the east side 
of this old line of travel at the present line of East 192d Street, 
where the turn eastwards towards the Fordham road began, there 
was a triangular plot of ground of about an acre in extent on which 
before 1816 had been erected a frame dwelling house, of one story 
and attic, which, by 1846, had passed into the possession of John 
Valentine, a farmer resident in the immediate vicinity. 

This is the little dwelling and plot which was leased that year 
on an annual tenancy, by Edgar Allan Poe, and here the last 
few months of the life of his wife and the last three years of his 
own tragic existence were spent. The situation was charmingly 
rural, yet fairly convenient. A station on the recently-constructed 
Harlem railroad had been established at Williamsbridge, a mile and 
a half to the north, and there had been some additions to the rustic 
population by well to do families, such as the Lorillards, who had 
built homes in the vicinity. The College of St. John had been estab- 
lished on the Rose Hill property, once the old Corsa farm, occupying 
the east side of the valley in which the railroad ran, and some of the 
priests composing the faculty became friends of the poet. 

North of the Cottage was a wooded tract, an apple orchard 
across the high road covered the present Poe Park, and to the east 
the land sloped steeply to the valley through \vhich Mill brook 
flowed. Southward, across a space of lawn, a wide outlook opened 
over the Bronx farm lands. 

There were pleasant country lanes and paths in several direc- 
tions. One of the latter which became a favorite of the poet was 
a footway along the recently completed course of the Croton Aqueduct 
which crossed the high road close to the Reformed Dutch church, 
and led through meadow and woodland to High Bridge, whence a 
distant view of the City of New York could be obtained over the 
Harlem flat lands. Another pleasant M-alk could be taken on the 
Fordham Landing Road, past the small burying ground of the Dutch 
Church, at the present Sedgwick Avenue, to the landing place at the 
Harlem River, across which were visible the farms of the Dyckman 
and Post families, their old Colonial roofs peering from among the 
fruit orchards that surrounded them. Poe frequently walked along 



THE POE COTTAGE AT FORDHAM 




THE COTTAGE IN 1884 



the highroad to Kiilgsbridge to visit the IMacomb family, and down to 
Tremont village to call on the family of the resident doctor of the 
Home for Incurables. 

Poe's dwelling stood rather close to the old road. Its west front 
was almost on the present building line, separated from the narrow 
roadway by a little strip of ground on which lilac bushes and a cherry 
tree grew. Until recent years the road climbed over the out-cropping 
ledges of rock, and it had no sidewalk : but a few flags of local blue 
stone formed the pathway to the porch. 

The Cottage itself is one of many of its type, perhaps a little 
above the ordinary workman's home, of which specimens may still 
be seen as one passes beyond the bounds of the great city. It is, 
however, probable that this dwelling which has been endued with 
a lasting interest through its occupation by the poet, will soon be the 
only survivor of its kind when all others of such humble character 
have been swept aside by the advancing city. 

The Cottage is not, as has been incorrectly asserted, of Dutch 
design or construction. It is the simplest American form of frame 



4 THE POE COTTAGE AT FORDHAM 

building, such as was abundantly erected in the decades of rapid 
growth of our population after the war of Independence. It appears 
to have been built about the beginning of the nineteenth century, 
judging by the materials used in its construction. Colonial influence 
and taste still prevailed to some extent even in such unimportant 
structures, as evidenced by its paneled doors, broad mantels, and 
small-paned windows, as well as its shingled exterior, but the cut 
nails, rude laths and mud plaster of its interior recall the primitive 
character of such workmanship during the period after the war. 

The stone fireplace and brick hearth of the sitting room are 
an inheritance from earlier times, and the broad planks and hand- 
hewn beams tell the story of local construction. It originally com- 
prised only two rooms on the ground floor and two in the attic, 
these forming the larger part of the present building, to which, not 
long after, the kitchen with its separate fireplace and chimney was 
added. This addition afforded the occupants the use of the large 
room as a sitting room or parlor, and seems to indicate its occupancy 
by some family above the grade of its original tenants. The lean-to, 
which was a still later addition, answered a similar purpose by afford- 
ing better conveniences in the kitchen and space for stores and fuel. 

We are fortunate in having photographs, taken in 1884, of 
the Cottage in its original position and with unchanged surroundings, 
prior to its first removal. The cherry tree, grown lofty with the 
passing years, still stood near the porch, a younger member of the 
same tribe had grown up in front of the parlor windows, a large 
maple flourished by the well near the door of the lean-to, and a clump 
of lilacs shrouded the kitchen window. . In the rear of the sloping 
garden eastward an outcrop of rock afforded an eminence to which 
Poe frequently resorted in his leisure as a place for rest and con- 
templation. The rock is there still, with the maple trees which 
shaded it, the little hollow space once part of the garden is also 
intact though the well has been filled in: and the old foundation, 
altered in part at the first moving of the dwelling, can still be faintly 
traced alongside the residence — No. 259 Kingsbridge Road — of Mr. 
Joseph J. M. Chauvat, the artist and owner of this interesting site. 

The opportunity for making such pictures soon ceased. The 
road was widened in 1896, and the Cottage had to be set back about 



THE POE COTTAGE AT FORDHAM 




THE COTTAGE DOORWAY 



17 feet. New residential buildings were erected, crowding close up 
to the house, so that its position became untenable, the danger from 
fire increased and its setting as a picturesque country cottage was 
quite spoiled. After the city had acquired the area of Poe Park, 
it was decided to purchase and remove the house from its original 
site to the park. This was accomplished in June, 1913, when the 
building was successfully transferred bodily about four hundred and 
fifty feet to the north, facing in the same direction and standing about 
at the same level as of old. The city then confided it to the care of 
the Bronx Society of Arts, Sciences and History. 



6 THE POE COTTAGE AT FORDHAM 

As it has been placed, the Cottage stands several feet above the 
level of the land in front. In its original situation the law^n lay only 
a single step below the porch. By filling in the park area in front 
of the Cottage in the reconstruction of the garden, the old condition 
w^ill presently be restored. The maple trees which are now standing 
by the Cottage occupy almost the same relative positions as those 
around its old resting place, so that the Cottage ere long may be 
seen exactly as it was in those pleasant days when Poe walked the 
garden sward and tended the flower beds of dahlias and geraniums 
of which he was so fond. 

The plan now being prepared for a garden to the south of the 
Cottage will use for its simple pathwa3's the irregular paving or 
stepping stones of which Poe wrote so approvingly, and it is hoped 
to secure from the old site one or more of the slabs from his own 
garden walks. 

The moving of the Cottage involved some additions and some 
loss. In place of the old damp cellar a complete basement, dry and 
airy, was constructed, but the lean-to on the kitchen end was de- 
stroyed, giving the house a shorn-off appearance. This was corrected 
in 1917, by the reconstruction of the lean-to, the means for which 
were provided by a gift from the late Mrs. Russell Sage. This work 
and the later work of restoring the interior was done by Mr. John 
Harden, whose interest in it and whose experience in other restoration 
work, notably the Dyckman House, enabled him to secure materials 
from out of the way sources and to reproduce the original construc- 
tion in every detail. Doors and windows were found that were 
duplicates of those in the Cottage, and bricks for replacing the 
kitchen flue and hearths were brought from the ruins of the old 
Macomb house in Kingsbridge, at which house Poe had been a 
frequent visitor. 

Protection against fire has been provided by suitable apparatus, 
but the possibility of loss, involving more or less complete reconstruc- 
tion has also been anticipated. The Architect of the Poe Cottage 
Committee has made exact measured drawings of the house and of 
every several part, including details of the mantels, mouldings and 
hand-wrought hardware. By the courtesy of the New York His- 
torical Society, copies of these drawings are preserved in their vault. 



THE POE COTTAGE AT FORDHAM 




THE PARLOR 



The Poe Cottage Committee, appointed b}' the Bronx Society of 
Arts, Sciences and History, on taking charge of the Cottage, found 
it entirely bare of contents, painted liberally with white paint inside 
and outside, its walls and ceiling covered with modern wall paper, 
its old floor-boards painted, and steam radiators and gas fixtures 
obtruding themselves in all the rooms. If the atmosphere and ap- 
pearance of Poe's home was to be presented to the public, it was 
evidently necessary to attempt to restore the interior to its early 
condition and to furnish it suitably. 

A survey of the building was made in 1916, and the Committee 
undertook such repairs as have restored both the exterior and interior 
as nearly as possible to their appearance in 1846. For this purpose 
all known records were searched and several detailed descriptions 
of the rooms' appearance and of their contents were found, as well 
as Poe's descriptions recorded in some of his stories which were 
evidently derived from the surroundings of his own dwelling at the 
time of his writing them. 



8 THE POE COTTAGE AT FORDHAM 

The congenial task of restoring the interior of the house was 
rendered possible in 1921 by the generosity of the Chairman of the 
Committee, and of her friend, Mrs. John Jay Chapman, under the 
direction of the professional members of the Committee. It involved 
considerable work. The paint was removed from the floors, and 
upon a close examination of the numerous coats with which the 
woodwork was covered it was found that the original color in the 
parlor had been a bluish green and in the kitchen a chestnut brown. 

Five layers of paint were found upon the woodwork, and as 
many layers of modern paper were removed from the walls, revealing 
below them faint traces of colored lime wash upon the plastered 
surfaces. The earliest color scheme, which doubtless was of the 
period of the poet's tenancy, has now been restored, and with the 
original floor surfaces exposed, the interior presents again the ap- 
pearance which rendered the rooms, in spite of their humble char- 
acter, so refined and attractive to the poet's visitors. 

It soon became evident that but few of the household articles 
used by the poet could now be found or secured. The family posses- 
sions were scattered after his death by Mrs. Clemm, who gave away 
many of them to those kindly neighbors who had befriended the 
poor little family. Of his personal belongings the Cottage has now 
in place his rocking chair, a looking glass and wooden bedstead, the 
latter rescued from an old barn in the vicinity. His w^fing-desk 
and some other objects are in the hands of collectors or institutions, 
and cannot be recovered. Still, if the atmosphere of the interior 
was to be recalled, it became necessary to provide furnishings as 
nearly as possible in keeping with the known character of Poe's 
belongings and with objects of the period of his occupancy. 

In response to requests for such furnishings many friends offered 
household materials, and grateful appreciation of the good will of 
these givers is here recorded, although only a very few of the gifts 
could be accepted without overcrowding the tiny rooms, nor could 
many interesting pictures which were contributed be hung without 
detracting from the simple character of the interior. 

Entering the house by the front door at its westerly end, the 
visitor steps into the little hallway which lends an air of retirement 



THE POE COTTAGE AT FORDHAM 




THE KITCHEN 



to the interior. To the left is the winding stairway leading to the 
attic above. It is said that Poe had a writing table and his meagre 
library in a room on this upper floor. This was doubtless the little 
northwest room, the window of which gave out upon the high road, 
and from which could be seen in the distance the tower of the old 
Reformed Dutch church of Fordham, across the fields of the Valentine 
farm. This room was unheated in winter, and could therefore, have 
been used in this manner only in warm weather. Much of Poe's 
writing was probably done in the parlor where the open fire provided 
all the heat that was available in the house. In the seclusion of 
these rooms some of the author's most ambitious work was done. 
The Bells, Annabel Lee, Ulalume, and Eureka, as well as some of his 
best fiction, were written there. 

The closets on either side of the parlor fireplace are original 
parts of the structure. They doubtless held the poet's books when 
the poet himself was almost unknown. Now that he is known the 



■ / 
/ 



10 THE POE COTTAGE AT FORDHAM 

world over, they are again devoted to his books in a growing collec- 
tion of various editions. In the parlor is a folding writing desk or 
traveling escritoire, once belonging to the Reverend Robert Bolton, 
of Pelham Priory, who was a contemporary and a distant connection 
of Edgar Allan Poe. This desk is very similar to the one used 
by Poe, though somewhat less in height. Poe's own rocking chair 
is the most important article in the room. Its companions, the little 
odd chairs and seats, are of his period, as also the small center table, 
the clock, the hanging book-shelves and the corner what-not. 

These furnishings are in harmony with a contemporary descrip- 
tion of the contents of this room — "The sitting-room floor was laid 
with check matting: four chairs, a light stand, and a hanging book- 
shelf composed its furniture. There were pretty presentation copies 
of books on the little shelves and the Brou^nings had posts of honor 
on the stand." 

Poe's description of a cottage sitting room, evidently derived 
from his own, was: "The more substantial furniture consisted of a 
round table, a few chairs (including a large rocking chair) and a 
sofa or rather settee, and its material was plain maple painted a 
creamy white slightly understriped with green." 

The tiny bed-room, within the close walls of which the spirit 
of Virginia passed away on that sad Saturday in January of 1847, 
contains the wooden bedstead which they used. The ornamental 
knobs on one side are roughly cut away, doubtless to fit it under the 
sloping roof of the attic room overhead, where it stood during the 
months before her decease. A little painted chest of drawers, a small 
looking glass, and a hair trunk, are furnishings which seem ap- 
propriate to the simplicity and poverty of their circumstances. 

The kitchen has been provided with such few and simple objects 
as it then doubtless possessed. The little cook stove given by Mr. 
John Harden, was one that was made in 1850, and is doubtless just 
such a novelty and treasure as the Poes found in the new stove 
which they substituted for the open kitchen fireplace. The little 
stove is said to have been purchased in order to save fuel, but more 
likely as a means of lessening the housework of baking and cooking 
on the old wide-open hearth. The kitchen fireplace was destroyed 



THE POE COTTAGE AT FORDHAM 



11 




THE BEDROOM 



in the process of moving the house, so the opening is closed by a 
board screen, as it may have been in Poe's days, after the stove was 
obtained. Strange to say, when the present stove was put in place, 
its smoke-pipe dropped readily into the hole in the wall which had 
been made for its predecessor seventy-five years ago. An old-time 
table, some wooden chairs, a copper kettle and some old-fashioned 
chinaware, complete the kitchen furnishings. The old shelves in the 
recess on which the family china and glass were probably set out, 
have been replaced and enclosed with glass doors within which are 
placed some glassware, china and pottery of the kind generally in 
use at that period. The kitchen, as one visitor recalled it, had a "floor 
as white as wheaten flour," probably a rather exaggerated description 
of the well scoured surface of its old floor boards. "A table, a chair, 



12 THE POE COTTAGE AT FORDHAM 

and the little stove it contained, seemed to furnish it completely." It 
would appear likely that the little family took their meals in the 
kitchen, as the parlor evidently had no suitable table for the purpose. 

The east room which occupies the larger half of the attic was 
Poe's bed-room. Here the kindly Mrs. Gove, calling, found the 
stricken wife. "I saw her in her bed chamber," she wrote. "Every- 
thing here was so neat, so purely clean, so scant and poverty stricken. 
There was no clothing on the bed, which was only straw, but a 
snow-white counterpane and sheets. She lay on the straw bed wrapped 
in her husband's great coat, with a large tortoiseshell cat in her 
bosom." As her illness progressed and the winter came on she was 
removed to the little bed room on the floor below, and it is stated 
that at one time she lay on a mattress in the parlor before the fire. 
That she passed away in the tiny chamber on this floor is most prob- 
able, as the upstairs room was as cold as ice in the January weather 
when the end came. 

"Of this little home in the pleasant country," says Woodbury, 

"there are many reminiscences, curiously intermingling the beauty 

of nature with the poor life of the three occupants." 

An English writer passed several weeks at the little dwelling 

in the early autumn of 1847, and described "its unrivalled neatness, 

and the quaint simplicity of its interior and surroundings." Mention 

was frequently made of the cozy home which Virginia Poe made, 

notwithstanding her limited means and contracted quarters. 

Harrison writes of the family in their cheerful little dwelling, 
describing — "the wholesomeness, sanity, beauty and brightness of their 
surroundings . . the direst poverty might reign as it did through 
life . . yet there is none of its squalor . . or seedy neglect." 

Mrs. Gove said that the Cottage "had an air of taste and 
gentility that must have been lent to it by the presence of its inmates. 
So neat, so poor, so unfurnished, and yet so charming a dwelling I 
never saw." 

The building was recollected by Mr. F. M. Hopkins as "a small 
one containing only three rooms" — he evidently did not include the 
attic rooms — "a porch extending along its entire front, and standing 
with its gable end to the street. Instead of being clapboarded it was 



THE POE COTTAGE AT FORDHAM 



13 




THE COTTAGE FROM KINGS BRIDGE ROAD 
In its original location 



shingled as was customary in the early days in which it was built, 
making a good specimen of the dignified little homes that dotted 
Northern New York." "In Poe's time the cottage was pleasantly 
situated on a little elevation in a large open space with cherry trees 
about it." It was at the time of the English author's visit, "bordered 
by a flower garden whose clumps of rare dahlias and brilliant beds 
of fall flowers showed, in the careful culture bestowed on them, the 
fine floral taste of the inmates. Round an old cherry tree near the 
door was a broad bank of greenest turf. The neighboring beds of 
mignonette and heliotrope, and the pleasant shade above made this 
a favorite seat." Our informant found the poet with his mother 
standing on the turf below the cherry tree eagerly watching the 
movements of two beautiful birds that seemed contemplating a settle- 
ment in its branches. 



14 THE POE COTTAGE AT FORDHAM 

Foe's taste in gardening is evidenced by his description of garden 
scenes in his works, where we can trace his imaginative reproduction 
of scenes of natural beauty and features of their artificial enhance- 
ment which as an artist he adored, and which were doubtless present 
to some extent in his own little domain. Here he describes "the 
pillars of the piazza enwreathed in jasmine and sweet honeysuckle — 
the numerous pots of gorgeous flowers, the vivid green of the tulip 
tree leaves that partially overshadowed the cottage . . ." and "the 
large, flat, irregular slabs of granite" that "lay imbedded in the 
delicious turf not nicely adapted, but with the velvety sod filling 
frequent intervals between the stones," that "led hither and thither 
from the house." 

Flowers were evidently specially attractive to the poet. In 
"Landor's Cottage" he depicts a large vase of resplendently blooming 
flowers on the parlor table, "the fireplace nearly filled with a vase of 
brilliant geraniums," others on the shelves and on the mantel, while 
violets clustered about the windows. 

In his own description of a garden, cages of different kinds 
were seen hanging from the boughs of the vine-covered pear tree — 
"In one, a large wicker cylinder with a ring at the top, revelled a 
mocking bird; in another an oriole; in a third the impudent bob-o- 
link — while three or four more delicate prisons were loudly vocal 
with canaries." His visitor in 1847, found that he had "rare tropical 
birds in cages which he cherished and petted with assiduous care." 
These were probably the tropical birds the English writer failed 
to recognize. Woodbury speaks of Poe "finding distraction with 
his pets, a bob-o-link he had caught and caged, a parrot someone had 
given him, or his favorite cat. The family seem always to have had a 
bird, or a cat, or growing flowers." 



The early pictures, the few relics and these fugitive recollections 
of various friends and literary visitors afiford intimate glimpses of 
the life of the poet, so humble and so secluded, in the little white 
cottage; a life and work beyond the vision of most of his contem- 
poraries as it was entirely beyond their powers, poor indeed in 
outward seeming but making many rich. 



POE'S COTTAGE AT FORDHAM 

By 
John Henry Boner 



Here lived the soul enchanted 

By melody of song; 
Here dwelt the spirit haunted 

By a demoniac throng; 
Here sang the lips elated; 
Here grief and death were sated; 
Here loved and here unmated 

Was he, so frail, so strong. 

Here wintry winds and cheerless 

The dying firelight blew, 
While he whose song was peerless 

Dreamed the drear midnight through, 
And from dull embers chilling 
Crept shadows darkly filling 
The silent place, and thrilling 

His fancy as they grew. 

Here with brow bared to heaven, 

In starry night he stood, 
With the lost star of seven 

Feeling sad brotherhood. 
Here in the sobbing showers 
Of dark autumnal hours 
He heard suspected powers 

Shriek through the stormy wood. 

Proud, mad, but not defiant. 

He touched at heaven and hell. 
Fate found a rare soul pliant 

And rung her changes well. 
Alternately his lyre. 
Stranded with strings of fire, 
Led earth's most happy choir. 
Or flashed with Israfel. 



No singer of old story 

Luting accustomed lays, 
No harper for new glory, 

No mendicant for praise, 
He struck high chords and splendid. 
Wherein were fiercely blended 
Tones that unfinished ended 

With his unfinished days. 

Here through this lowly portal, 

Made sacred by his name. 
Unheralded immortal 

The mortal went and came. 
And fate that then denied him, 
And envy that decried him, 
And malice that belied him. 

Have cenotaphed his fame. 

Courtesy of The Century Co. 



THE SCMOEN PRINTING COMPANY, 
17 VANDEWATEH STREET, NEW YORK OTV 



RETURN TO the circulation desk of any 
University of California Library 
or to the 
NORTHERN REGIONAL LIBRARY FACILITY 
BIdg. 400, Richmond Field Station 
University of California 
Richmond, CA 94804-4698 

ALL BOOKS MAY BE RECALLED AFTER 7 DAYS 

• 2-month loans may be renewed by calling 
(510)642-6753 

• 1-year loans may be recharged by bringing 
books to NRLF 

• Renewals and recharges may be made 4 
days prior to due date. 

DUE AS STAMPED BELOW 



DEC 1 3 2002 



12,000(11/95) 



468082 



^.. /-r 



\j .w^ 



UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA LIBRARY 



i